For years, marketers, editors and bloggers have been volleying the marketing term “engagement” around like a taped up shuttlecock. The term has also been denigrated by continuous contextual evolution. “Engagement” means one thing when referring to customer loyalty programs, another in the context of your web analytics package, and something further afield in the complex mesh of social media.
So, to give engagement a better—or at least more consistent—name, I’ve attempted to identify some key principles of what customer engagement means in the context of marketing, and in the process, hope to help marketers use these principles to focus their efforts on engaging more customers. This will be expanded into an intelligence paper with more detail, which I will post here later.
Just to be clear, three qualifiers and definitions: first, I’m not talking about making sales, or generating leads, or providing entertainment. We’re talking about moving a consumer (of just about anything: soda, music, jet engines, etc.) beyond the initial sale, into an area of prolonged interaction and even ongoing communication.
Second, engagement does NOT necessarily have to follow a sale. But it does follow the initial conversion from “I’m not interested” or “I’m not aware” to “I’m interested and want to hear/learn/see/do more with this brand.” For instance, I don’t buy anything from Mashable, but I’m deeply engaged with their content, and couldn’t imagine starting a day without visiting that site and consuming that information. The same is true for almost a billion people and Facebook: nothing has been purchased, but the engagement level with that brand is incredibly high.
Finally, customer engagement tends to be transactional. That is to say that it seems reserved for those brands that involve multiple interactions. You might buy a coffee brand or read a certain blog every day, so the opportunity for repeated experiences—as you’ll see, one principle for engagement—exists. On the contrary, you may only buy a funeral plot once in your adult life, if it all – there’s not much of an opportunity for that marketer to drive engagement with that customer. (Not to say it doesn’t happen – the singular experience may leave a lasting impression.)
The Five Principles of Engagement – in relative chronological order.
Principle 1: It Starts with Triangulation. Although many marketers believe that they can engage customers in a linear, point a to point b fashion, this is actually quite difficult to sustain. At some point, the customer needs more attention, and thus triangulation becomes a pivotal element of customer engagement. When you and your customer can triangulate on outside interests—features like design or performance, affiliations like music, or sports, or a cause like the environment, or travel rewards like Broadway musicals—then the opportunities to engage multiply exponentially. Now you can offer your customer more of what they like/want/need, (while simultaneously creating a deeper bond, since you and the customer now have a common interest or two or six,) and tie the resulting benefits back to your brand.
Principle 2: It’s Fueled by Passion. Passion is the fuel for true customer engagement. When you triangulate on something together, it’s based on both of your passions for it. (That’s why you choose your triangulation points carefully. If you don’t have passion for that “other thing,” your customers will see right through your shoddy aims.) If your brand can demonstrate real passion for the industry, for the craft, for the process, or it continues to demonstrate passion in the form of your new products and services, that passion tends to be matched by your engaged customer. It’s in the nature of relationships to want to reciprocate what the other party is doing. This in turn, leads to a process of ongoing exchange between the two parties that continues to amp up the interchange.
Principle 3: It’s an Ongoing Relationship. Many sales professionals (and I say this with the utmost respect for what they do) have an understandably myopic view of what marketing is about…they think lead>conversion>end. Today, marketers know that the sale or conversion is just the beginning of a long and hopefully fruitful relationship where the initial conversion is an indication of some assent to continue communicating. Brands that form relationships with their customers tend to provide a more enjoyable, and more sustainable experience for the customer, where each has their own voice, and after some trust is built up, can even begin to ask things of each other.
Principle 4. It’s Based on the Experience. Even if a marketer can provide every one of the above principles, engagement typically only occurs when the marketer can provide a certain (unique) experience to the customer. It could be a benign feature, or something very personal, (but as we know from our brand training, the more emotional the benefit, and the higher up the ladder of self-actualization, the better.)
Great brands with deeply engaged customers provide a single certain, can’t-get-it-anywhere-else kind of feeling for those customers. In many cases, those brands provide repeated experiences (even simple ones) that add up to something similarly special. That leads to an unmistakable takeaway and a glowing perception of the interaction between the consumer and the producer. Apple does that. Wired magazine does that. The Ritz-Carlton does that. And just to prove it doesn’t have to be some hoity-toity-Fortune-40 brand, the guy on the corner who sells you your bagels and coffee can do that. And so can your private voice teacher. And, likely, so did your best sports coach.
Principle 5. It’s Gotta Be Consistent. Okay, so you’ve triangulated on something cool to create some commonality. You’ve demonstrated passion with turning out great products that set or buck the industry trends. You’ve forged a relationship with your customer that’s based on a unique and singular experience. Now the challenge is sustaining this good will. The easiest way to do that is to exploit the principle of consistency. Be consistent with how often you’re communicating with customers. Be consistent with how often you’re upgrading your products or services. Be consistent with your brand voice. Because of all the things, this is most important. Your customers fell for you because of something you did, or the way you did it, or the way you packaged it. They remembered that experience and the feelings it created. They came back for more, and continue to patronize—maybe even evangelize for—you and your brand. Make a left turn on them, and you’ll likely lose all that good will.